Losing the Left Tackle Is Like Losing the Quarterback (Sort of)

Losing the Left Tackle Is Like Losing the Quarterback (Sort of)

When we suggested yesterday that the sorry state of the Eagles' offensive line wasn't on Andy Reid, a handful of folks still felt a few key injuries are no excuse. Had the front office only drafted better, they wouldn't be in this mess, right?

The problem with that theory is unless Reid was planning to use a first-round pick on a backup left tackle, chances are he would have a hard time finding an adequate substitution for the fallen Jason Peters.

I tried merely making the point that quality left tackles don't grow on trees by citing there is always a premium on the position come draft day. Perhaps had I specified where the overwhelming majority of the NFL's left tackles are taken, that would better illustrate the point. Here goes.

Of the 32 players who are their club's regular starter at left tackle, 10 were chosen within the top nine picks overall, while 19 overall -- more than half -- were selected in the first round. Another seven are from rounds two or three, bringing the grand total to 26.

Over 80% of the league's starting left tackles were tagged in rounds one through three. In other words, the chances of a player taken later actually panning out as a left tackle are slim. And when Peters is under contract, in his prime, why would the organization use one of their cherished early picks there rather than at a position of need?

The numbers are actually very similar to another important position: quarterback. 23 of the NFL's 32 starting signal were taken in round one, including a whopping 15 within the top 10 picks. Between rounds one and three, that number grows to 28, just two more than at left tackle.

As we've mentioned in the past, history tells us when a quarterback goes down with a season-ending injury, his team is usually screwed. Since playoff expansion, only Jeff Hostetler, Kurt Warner, and Tom Brady have relieved injured teammates on their way to winning a Super Bowl -- and two of them are headed to the Hall of Fame.

We can't be certain the same is true for any offensive linemen, but we can at least confirm the position is nearly as difficult to fill. Simply put, there isn't a lot of left tackle talent in the NFL outside the first round, therefore if a team has an injury there, they almost inevitably will wind up with a King Dunlap type filling in.

Can the offensive line woes be blamed entirely on the loss of Peters? No, but probably more than you might imagine.

Peters needed little help in pass protection, so the Eagles could send extra blockers to the right side. Not surprisingly, Todd Herremans appeared to take a step back this year when that assistance was shared at the other end. Peters was also by far and away their most athletic and physically imposing blocker in front of LeSean McCoy on runs and screens, making the back's down year easy to predict.

Then the Eagles sustain an injury at center two weeks into the season, and suddenly Reid is trying to fill holes at two highly specialized positions. Only four centers were drafted at all in 2012, and only one after round four, so finding quality depth is not as simple as you might think.

But left tackle in particular is a difficult position to carry depth, because left tackle depth doesn't really exist in the NFL. If a player was going to be an even remotely decent left tackle, he's probably gone by rounds two or three in the draft, typically much earlier. One lineman was projected to start at left tackle immediately in this year's draft, and Matt Kalil went fourth overall to Minnesota.

The fact is, the left tackle position is like the quarterback position in that it's very difficult to replace, and only the top-tier level of talent consistently rises to the top. Obviously first rounders have a higher rate of success in general, but you can find decent contributors at other positions later on with far greater frequency.

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”

Best of NHL: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

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Best of NHL: Bryan Rust notches hat trick as Pens score 8 in win

PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Rust had his first career hat trick, Sidney Crosby added his NHL-leading 17th goal and the Pittsburgh Penguins raced by the Ottawa Senators 8-5 on Monday night.

Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each had a goal and two assists for Pittsburgh, and Matt Cullen and Justin Schultz also scored. The Penguins poured in six goals over the final 32 minutes after spotting the Senators a 4-2 lead. Matt Murray made 17 saves after coming in for an ineffective Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.

Pittsburgh has won three straight overall and improved to 7-0-2 in its last nine against the Senators.

Matt Stone had a goal and two assists for Ottawa. Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Dion Phaneuf also scored for Ottawa, which lost in regulation for just the second time in its last eight games (see full recap).

Capitals rally late for OT win over Sabres
WASHINGTON -- Marcus Johansson scored the tying goal late in the third period and got the winner midway through overtime to lift the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

The goals were Johansson's third and fourth in his last five games. He has 11 for the season.

Jay Beagle added the Capitals' first even-strength goal in three games, as Washington snapped a three-game losing skid. Braden Holtby made 31 saves in the victory, the Capitals second over the Sabres in an 11-day stretch.

Kyle Okposo scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season to give the Sabres the lead in the second period. Zemgus Girgensons also scored early for Buffalo, and Robin Lehner made 30 stops for the visitors (see full recap).

Blue Jackets sweep series from Coyotes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sam Gagner had two goals and two assists to help the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes for the second time in three days, 4-1 on Monday night.

Nick Foligno and Zach Werensky also scored for the Blue Jackets, who won for the fourth straight time and ninth of their last 12. Columbus picked up its 500th win in franchise history in sweeping the two-game season series with the Coyotes.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 17 shots for Columbus.

Arizona backup goaltender Louis Domingue had 30 saves, two days after the Blue Jackets hammered starter Mike Smith with a franchise-record 60 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory in Phoenix.

Arizona struck first 9:28 into the game when Alex Goligoski fed a pass on a power play to Tobias Reider, who slammed it past Bobrovsky's glove side from between the circles (see full recap).